I’m back in the written word again! I’m writing as a companion piece to my podcast, which you can hear if you email me (contact me on the site). Recent support from friends and messages from musicians have made me want to write, even though it’s a pain in my butt sometimes! We’ll see how it goes. For now, I’m going to write about everything I’m playing this month. We’ll see what happens when I go to talk about it.
Case/Lang/Veirs - Case/Lang/Veirs (ANTI-)
Track Highlight - “Best Kept Secret”
I forgot to include this on my podcast for last month, and the irony is that it was my favorite album that I found in July! Oh no! What a disaster! I listened to it a lot, got other people into it, took it out of rotation so that I didn’t get sick of it, and then forgot about it, in a way. But really I think this will remain in rotation for quite some time, similar to Neko Case’s last five or six albums (I didn’t actually love the last one). I wasn’t familiar with Laura Veirs or KD Lang enough before this record, and they’re at distinctly different places on the songwriting spectrum. Though the songs are collaborations, Case’s sound, well, like Neko Case songs (“Delirium”, “Behind the Armory”, “Supermoon”, “Down”) as they haunt and please in equal amounts. KD Lang’s songs (“Honey and Smoke”,”Blue Fires”,”1000 Miles Away”, “Why Do We Fight”) are a bit similar though more canonically folk and perhaps even more alluring in a way. The Veirs tunes (“Song For Judee”,”Greens of June”,”Best Kept Secret”,”I Want to Be Here”,”Georgia Stars”) are the real treat for me, though, as they are precious, smart, and catchy in a way that I can’t draw any parallels to other artists. The opening song may be the only truly collaborative song songwriting-wise, though the contributions on each other’s tracks are significant and certainly raise the quality of the music. I mean, if you could choose backup singers on your perfect folk banger “Best Kept Secret,” wouldn’t you choose KD Lang and Neko Case?
Thee Oh Sees - A Weird Exits (Castle Face)
Track Highlight - Gelatinous Cube
I probably won’t buy the new Oh Sees album, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the best garage album of the year. It’s just…a 40 minute album printed across two LPs. Completely unnecessary. Tracks 5-8 are 22 minutes, and that means it would split at my personal highlight, the driving “Gelatinous Cube” (Dwyer is dipping into the D&D well again for names it appears). What a perfect B1! Advantages of this pressing: it’s at 45 RPM (I don’t care), A and B both go rocker-rocker-instrumental rocker, and the pensive tracks get their own side (C). Before all that happens though, we get the 1-2 salvo of “Dead Man’s Gun” and “Ticklish Warrior,” which are in line with the quality of many Mutilator tracks. After an instrumental, “Plastic Plant” and “Gelatinous Cube” come howling in. Both are classic Oh Sees tracks. The former sounds like Dwyer’s been listening to Deep Purple too much and he finally found a good way to incorporate his flute into a track (hint: just a little). The latter is equally indebted to 70s punk, hard rock, and kraut, and packs a huge punch that I could see getting blown wide open live, similar to “Dead Energy”. I’m ambivalent about the instrumentals that come in between these songs. They give the songs some room to breathe, and “Unwrap the Fiend” in particular sounds nearly complete (all it’s missing is some Dwyer vocals). “Crawl Out from the Fall Out” opens side C with organs, strings, and cymbal taps, and may be the prettiest Dwyer song that’s still really effective as a Dwyer song. The ultimate song is similar but stands apart: the vocals are unique, the organ drives the song, and it works very well as a closing anthem. I’m happy this album exists and will re-press a better version in my alternate reality where I have a label that fixes pressings that I don’t like.
Nice As Fuck - Nice as Fuck
Track Highlight - “Higher”
This is a nice Jenny Lewis moment that's happening right now. She's doing the 10 year Rabbit Fur Coat tour and she's on her freshest sounding album since Acid Tongue. Here, she's in a supergroup, the have a naughty name, and its much less of an undertaking than her last album. And to good results! You can put this on for a pretty short run, a really short party, or a nice long walk to lunch. It's all drum, bass, and Jenny's vocal maneuvering (and processing), save for some choice synth moments on a few songs." The more post-punk it sounds the better: "Home Run" is a catchy fight song, and "Higher" is an anthem. The latter is a huge standout and reminds me of the Rilo Kiley song "Moneymaker" in its pop sensibility and dark theme pairing ("I'm so lit up I could cryyyyy"). This is a tight and simple album that you'll be happy you heard, Jenny Lewis fan yet or not.
Angel Olsen - My Woman (Jagjaguwar)
Track Highlight - “Shut Up Kiss Me”
I saw the video for “Shut Up Kiss Me” first, as many people might have. I feel like I saw it before even hearing the song. It made me curious about this record, which I really like now, but I didn’t at first. The first thing that keeps this record from being immediate is the sequencing - there is nearly a pop side / art side split between the halves, making it seem egregiously front loaded. The opening trio is especially good, which reminds me of her last album, where I lost interest after the first three songs. So either this album is better, I’ve tried harder, or both, because now I think some of the best moments come after the opening salvo. I love the Stevie Nicks indebted vocals of “Heart Shaped Face” and the curiously Lykke Li sounding “Those Were the Days” might actually be the best song on the record. The epics in between those two songs are good too - maybe not quite deserving of their running times, but very good. I have more issues with the record than the sequencing though: there’s Angel’s melody choices, vocal performance, and vocal processing. Sometimes the melodies feel too obtuse, the production is grainy and washes out her voice (in favor of a raw rock sound?), she croons when I’d rather she howl and yelps when I wish she’d serenade me. I should shut up though, this is a really good album.
Ryley Walker - Golden Sings that Have Been Sung
Track Highlight - “Funny thing she said”
The live and studio Ryley experience are converging significantly on Golden Sings, which is for the best. These songs are at once looser and meatier than Primrose Green. There's room for improvisation, or at least bluegrass-style riffing, and that space is filled consistently by an array of instruments, including more electric guitar and organ than before. This is how a live Ryley show sounds - the focus is on the musicianship and The Bandleader ties it together with some stream of consciousness musings. "Funny thing she said" is sparse, bluesy, sad, and pretty - things that have never all occurred within the any Ryley song before. "Sullen Mind" is somewhat similar except that it's designed for a 15 minute bluegrass jam session, I think. Ryley's wry lyrics are better than before, are often more obtuse and playful, and are delivered conversationally at times, like on "The Roundabout" and "The great and undecided." This all adds up to an album without weak moments or missteps that I look forward to hearing this band perform.
Michael Kinawuka - “Love and Hate”
Track Highlight - “One More Night”
It's hard for me to understand or write about this album, since it's basically out of context and time. There isn't a popular genre called Cinematic Soul that I can place this in the canon of, and it doesn't particularly take advantage of any musical developments of the last 30 years. Instead, it's Sly psychedelic soul, Van Morrison (more like Them) folk and R&B, and Morricone soundtracks blended seamlessly. At least that's what the epic opener "Cold Little Heart" brings to mind, as well as the title track. The other tracks do vary quite a bit, from the Supafly indebted "Black man in a white world," the gospel blues of "Father's Child" and the simple pop of "One More Night." There is great consistency though: piano and strings provide melody, the songwriting quality is high, and the default mode is sweeping and gorgeous. It's hard to find the mood that this fits perfectly for me, but perhaps it's a mood I never knew I had before.
The Lad Mags - The Future’s Done (Self Released)
Track Highlight - “Future’s Done”
Rarely does band camp music sound this well produced or performed! These two tracks give me great hope for these Canadian rockers, whose vocal harmonies and organ lines recall the Nuggetiest of times. More, please!
The Paranoyds - After You EP (Self Released)
Track Highlight - “Freak Out”
Debut four track cassette from lady LA punks who are friends with Fernando and the Teenage Narcs. Their parties together must be amazing scenes. There’s a lot of promise here, and seeing that they’re putting out a split with Fernando is exciting news for me! Of the four, “Freak Out” may be the most complete and catchy song, though they’re all full of good ideas and promise.
S Olbricht - For Perfect Beings (Lobster Theremin)
Track Highlight - “Fadaisco”
Lobster Theremin is not in my top three Outsider House Labels (1080p, 100% Silk, Opal Tapes); it’s #4. Also there’s not really a #5 (Maybe L.I.E.S.? Not really). But For Perfect Beings puts Lobster Theremin back on the map! This one is quite a surprise for me, and it may be my biggest grower of the year. I started to realize how precise the composition was only as the third track, “Fadaisco,” came on, but repeated listens show how the whole thing is tightly constructed and for beings who appreciate quality music. “Fadaisco” is a masterpiece of percussion, and is fun in a way that arty house rarely is. Working back though, opening two tracks, “Asterid” and “Blamebestrid,” are great opening complements. The first wastes no time with its highly detailed sci-fi synths that create a new universe, while the second expands this world from a darker angle with texture and depth of sound. Later on, on the 7” (12” and 7” together and it’s 40 minutes, ugh) we have two “Ovacrwded” tracks, fast and slow, that could not be any more different. Both shuffle over broken beats and psychedelic ambience, but they in no way sound redundant and are a great way to end the record. Maybe I just want this album to be “for” me, but I think it’s one of the best electronic albums of the year.
2814 - Rain Temple (Dream Catalogue)
Track Highlight - “Inside the Sphere”
The dreamiest of the Dream Catalogue dreamers are back with the follow up collaboration to last year’s 新しい日の誕生. HKE and telepath drop the spaces from between the numbers and are now naming things in English (thank goodness) and press a 66 minute Ambient tape that no one wants to call Vaporwave. “Before the Rain” is a shimmering ambient opener that flows neatly into the Ambient Trap crunch of “Eyes of the Temple.” “Lost in a Dream,” a title applicable to any number of their songs, follows with some woozy semi-intelligible vocals on top of a dense wall of sound. The cloud of haze lifts a bit for the middle of the tape, where pleasant melodies come forward through ambient washes and sparse beats. “This Body” takes a step back towards the trap beats that HKE has been working with before opening into the lush “Contact.” The journey concludes with “Inside the Sphere,” which is perhaps the thickest, loudest, most kinetic, and most satisfying moment on the album. While not quite as good as their last, Rain Temple presents perhaps both a more consistent and broader set of ideas.
Akasha System - Vague Response (100% Silk)
Track Highlight - “Afterimage”
Good tapes to me present alternate universes that you can curl up in and forget about the issues you have with popular music. This tape, Akasha System’s first, is as warm and inviting as it gets with a little alternate universe. Here, you get a half hour of drum machines and synthesizers, the former often doing little and the latter carrying several melodies at once. These are more “songs” than “electronic songs,” and it seems to be the ideal way to build towards something if you’re going to do everything subtle in getting there. It’s hard to pick favorites, but “Afterimage” always occurs to me as a bright spot as it wafts by, floating on its shifting melodies in an almost A/B/A/B song structure with variations and builds. The title track has a lounge-y, Body-San influenced appeal that’s carried by its Eastern melodies and slow, shuffling percussion. “Caves” and “Muted” are notable for their forward-in-the-mix bass beat, which isn’t often said of electronic music. The latter builds momentum and breaks into its strongest melody only halfway through. Akasha system pulls a Big Boi with “Last Call” at the end of the album, saving a great final synth melody for the runout. My copy is on the way from LA; this is the kind of thing I can’t get enough of and I can’t wait to put it on my tape deck.
Body Boys - Terms (Indole)
Track Highlight - “Terms”
I just got ahold of this a few listens ago but I’d be remiss if I didn’t write about it for a moment. Body Boys is one of the best artists in the abstract house/techno game, and this release (digital only, sigh) certainly helps prove it. This brings together everything they’ve done between their two Opal Tapes releases, combines them perfectly, and pushes their sound forward. This can be heard clearly in “Terms,” which builds out of very Hood Spectrum simplicity into No Face sparse techno brilliance. Then, the warmth and sub bass of “Syringe II” is a brilliant take on the abstract trap/bass ideas that have been floating around lately. “Last” pushes the sound into melodic territory that sounds like some microhouse neighbors of the Boys, while “Rhythm II” goes more manic than ever in every direction. Later on, “Miyagi” sounds like a club track minus the party plus texture. I’m really glad they’re becoming one of the more prolific acts in this style, because they may become Thee Oh Sees of outsider house.
Lnrdcroy - Ooze City (Mood Hut)
Track Highlight - “Ooze City”
Leonard Campbell on Mood Hut!? This must be my lucky day! Vancouver is the place to be for chill but traditional deep house, and Lnrd gets all Mood Hutty for this release. “Ooze City” is especially in debt to Pender Street folks: it bounces and rolls, it has funk and swagger, it lets the 303 take over just for fun. In the second half of the ten minute jam, the drum patterns get more intense, an ambient glow emerges (the titular Ooze?), and the acid gets a little more trippy. Aquabus starts out as a minimal dub track and has more in common with last year’s UNTHANK008 than anything else. It picks up puzzle pieces little by little along the way and flirts with danceable grooves more and more as it unfolds. “Kali Yuga” has the click-attack bass trick that Auscultation has used a few times to drive me crazy (same effect here) and is as pleasurable as the Age of Vice for which it is named. It has the fastest tempo and most aggressive drums and the biggest and most obvious samples (guitar and voice) that he’s used to date. I’ve heard that this closing track has closed his shows before, and it has all the trappings of an epic dance set ender. With this release, Campbell proves that he knows his way around long-form deep house and can add skills to his playbook at will on this substantial little release.
Acronym - Guadalquivir (Northern Electronics)
Track Highlight - “Purity”
Over the last year, it’s become clear that Acronym is the most talented artist on the deep bench of Northern Electronics. He has been drifting closer to techno as of last year’s brilliant June and then Ashes, which saw him in Plastikman style minimal-acid analog mode. Now, the Swede Zeno’s Paradoxes that distance again by pressing a four-tracker that incorporates his trademark use of space and synth with new styles of drum programming. The commitment to the beats here (there are no ambient tracks) is novel for both him and the label. The opener “Purity” is my pick for being the most aggressive and interlocking of the four, but the closing “Cleansed in Fire” has lush ambience and classic techno build that makes it a serious contender.
Foans - Frontier (100% Silk)
Track Highlight - “Bring it Here”
Foans Frontier drops at the same time as the Akasha system on the highest quality Outsider House label around. It’s a little bit better for night drives around the city and maintains a dance-music inflection from the get go with “Frontier” leading the way with its sparkles and grooves. This classically segues into the darker, faster, and cracklier “Veracruz” that uses just about the most lo-fi version of the techno bass-hihat beat I’ve ever heard. The titular vocal sample on “Bring it Here” makes it a standout on the B-side, as it sounds indebted in great parts to both bedroom-pop and bedroom-house. “Heavy Traffic” brings the grooves afterwards with a sample is somewhat more satisfying for its subtlety. This tape is proving the value of the strain of tapes that’s taking away what makes dance floor music an unideal headphone listening experience and keeping the tropes that work in this context.
Appleblim - Minus Degree (Tempa)
Track Highlight - “Move Them”
Named for it’s arty ambient A-side, Appleblim’s new 12” has more in common with the ALSO work that introduced me to his oeuvre than last year’s Avebury. Tampa is apparently a dubstep label, but the only dub that happens on this EP is in the non 4/4 bass beats on the B side. There, “Move Them” and “Twist it Down” are both nearly danceable UK Bass workouts with a near-techno sensibility. Thinking back to ALSO (and I often do), it’s easy to hear where Laurie’s contributions come in - especially when listening to this in the same session with Second Storey’s new EP. The tension and release is more classic though the beats are still unpredictable and off-kilter in every way they can be. This is another essential release in the post-dubstep world that Appleblim and Second Storey are carving out.
Second Storey - Bismuth (Houndstooth)
Track Highlight - “Bismuth”
Alec Storey remains the crazier half of the ALSO duo with Bismuth, filling the Akkord void for Houndstooth with the wildest Electro-tinged Bass music he can muster. Like the IDM forebears to this style, and like his partner in crime Laurie Osbourne, Alec is all about the details. Take the title cut, where a multitude of different sounds and textures come in and out, tickling the brain like Richard D in the 90s. “Vapor Value” sounds like Radiohead’s “The Gloaming” that’s been remixed by a child genius with an Adderall prescription (they forgot Thom Yorke’s vocals in their exuberance). The tempo picks up for “Grand Rapid” on the B-side, which is full of clicks, claps, machines on the fritz, sparkles, and shimmering synths. “Helicat” finishes off with the most straightforward and heaviest that he has to offer, almost as though Storey saved his collection of pummeling sounds all for one six minute segment. All in all, I’d say this is Idiosyncratic Dork Mayhem for the 2010s.
John Roberts - Plum (Brunette)
Track Highlight - “Chlorine”
John Roberts is back on his boutique Brunette imprint that operates under Kompakt, one of the many words that I should add to my Mac dictionary. Roberts apparently no longer makes Deep House music. I miss Glass Eights, but I think he shouldn’t try to outdo or recreate that masterpiece, so I’m glad for the new direction. This is a particularly weird direction though! Eight very different sound art experiments that make decent sense as traditional songs and that communicate very well as an album. In fact, Plum is very good at building momentum and tension and then breaking it apart in whatever way it sees fit. “Wade” is an interesting moment in the middle that’s electro-tinged and beat heavy, and it’s hilarious when “Dye Tones” breaks this momentum with a sparse bass beat only to build it up with major key melodic synth action. “Chlorine” may be the most put-together as a track and may be the best for it, but “Plastic Rash” follows with raucous grime-y schizophrenia and goes a way towards convincing me that this is just as worthwhile of a pursuit. Closer “Gum” features non-synth instrumentation and a hint of melancholy; two things that make me excited to see where things will go next.
Steven Julien - Fallen (Apron)
Track Highlight - “Jedi”
What makes an artist drop their alias and release under their proper birth name? In this case, Julien may have woken up one morning and realized that FunkinEven is a dumb moniker. Or maybe he feels like he killed off FunkinEven during the making of Fallen! There is some pretty even funk to these house beats, though this release definitely goes places. There’s a couple tracks that sound like an extended intro, and then a couple similar jazzy house cuts, “Carousel” and “XL,” that really give this release the “house album” concept as they build momentum into the middle of the album. The middle of the album meanders before drifting off into space with “Oshun” and the minimal, brooding “Fallen.” After this, some of the biggest moments happen: the tight techno jam “Jedi,” the rollicking acid banger “Kingdom,” or the percussion mania of “Disciple.” It’s interesting to think of the form this album takes if the tracks really do span 15 years in their provenance; in a sense, it might be Julien’s Opus. At least, it’s a well sequenced and varied set of house tracks.
Complete Walkthru - Complete Walkthru (1080p)
Track Highlight - “Currently Playin”
Max McFerren, house’s biggest goofball, is at it again! As a tape house listener (there are dozens of us!) I look forward to hearing from “real” house producers who are making the cassette release versions of the things they do for the dance floor. This tape is in a good pocket in between: it uses more house tropes than the usual 1080p tape and is therefore much more danceable, or at least certain selections are. The special thing about these tapes is that they function better as albums than most electronic music, and McFerren sequences this to tell a story. “Airbody Tipse” is the only place where we find an intro that a house tune would usually have, but it’s really just an intro to the album. Then again, it threatens to stand on its own! The next couple tracks pick up a lot of momentum as they spiral off into the corners of McFerren’s brain and beat collection before cooling down with the understated and weird (but good) “Feeble Funk.” The off-kilter grooves and fun vocal samples continue through to the B-side, and then the album ends with a pair of up-tempo electro-tinged house tracks, the first of which, “Currently Playin,” is particularly fun.
Daniel Menche - Cave Canum (Self-Released)
I won’t be playing any of this on my podcast, but I often praise Daniel Menche for making some of the most listenable noise in this hemisphere, so I should give him a mention here. Here, we have vibraphone, bass guitar, percussion, and dissonant noise that creates a cave like environment. Each of the three tracks, a part of the suite of the same name, are between 13 and 14 minutes long and contain all of these same elements. These three tracks make me proud to be an American.